The Chicago Cubs’ Jorge Soler returned to the lineup in style with a three-run home run in his first at-bat back, and will allow Joe Maddon even more versatility in the field.
Don’t look now, but the Chicago Cubs have won eight out of their last 10 and opened up a 9 1/2 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. But what could be considered more frightening for the rest of the league is that they’re starting to get healthy. Soler’s home run was his only hit on the night, but his return will create even more matchup possibilities for Maddon on a day-to-day basis.
First, with many fans talking about trading Soler once he is healthy and “builds value”, ala Starlin Castro last year–this guy was one of the core four identified years ago. Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Soler were identified as the group to help lead the rebuild. Prospects can falter, but all four have made their way to Chicago, and Almora will be back before too long. So why the itchiness to trade him?
I’ve seen the phrase “rightful spot” in left field when referring to Kyle Schwarber. I don’t dispute that it’s one of his spots, but a healthy and productive Soler makes for a solid platoon. And with that, it doesn’t mean they won’t play elsewhere on other days. The question of Dexter Fowler for next season is still unanswered, so there possibly be at-bats available for Soler in right field as well as Jason Heyward would slide over into center field.
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Schwarber will see time behind the plate, even if it’s sparingly. Willson Contreras is a star in the making behind the plate, and we know that David Ross is in his final year. Miguel Montero is here, and will be for the remainder of his contract. He’ll help groom Contreras as well as Schwarber, and a veteran leader behind the plate doesn’t hurt.
This also leaves you with Ben Zobrist and Bryant who have filled in when needed in the outfield. Both very capable, but now less necessary to have to put them out there. The only “issue” becomes Baez and where to slid him in to get at-bats. But let’s be honest, Maddon continues to mix and match and find ways to get Baez in–and almost always makes his presence felt, if not at the plate but in the field.
But we won’t see Schwarber till 2017, which means, for now, the outfield options are very right-handed off the bench, less Chris Coghlan–if Maddon was to stick with his typical outfield group. But he won’t, because he’s Joe. Any man that can play Travis Wood in left field and pinch hit with Jon Lester and make it not just work, but look good? Tip of the cap on that.
This Cubs team continues to evolve, with new players and occasionally guys who were here returning. But the versatility the team has shown so far may set them up for a very successful run this October.